Fujita emerging star for Chiefs

Updated: October 21, 2003, 5:02 PM ET
ESPN

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If Scott Fujita keeps playing like this, word may finally get around that Kansas City's emerging star is not Japanese.

In his fourth outstanding effort in four weeks, the linebacker had 12 tackles and a sack in a 17-10 victory over Oakland on Monday night that kept the Chiefs unbeaten.

Flashing sideline-to-sideline quickness and more veteran savvy than most second-year pros, he had 15 tackles against Houston on Sept. 21, and then turned in 11 tackles and two sacks in an overtime win at Green Bay.

Just two years removed from being an obscure player for a losing Pac-10 team, Fujita has not had a bad outing during a 7-0 start. And coach Dick Vermeil says there's still room for improvement.

"Scott Fujita can still get a lot better," Vermeil said.

As Fujita learns more about the NFL, fans are finally starting to learn more about the linebacker who was adopted when he was only a week old by a Japanese-American family in California.

The tall, sandy-haired Caucasian grew up amid constant confusion over his ethnicity. More than once, he was required to show a photo ID to prove who he was.

When he was drafted, Japanese-Americans around the country wrote to him about how proud they were and still talk about him on Internet sites.

"It's funny," he said. "There will be an article about me, and they'll have a caption underneath it saying, `This guy is not actually of Japanese descent. He was adopted.' It's like I'm talked about with an asterisk."

Pictures often accompany stories about Asian-American celebrities. But not when they're talking about Fujita.

"Mine says, `This player will not be pictured because he's not actually Japanese," Fujita said with a smile.

The Chiefs had many goals in the offseason when they began overhauling a defense that ranked last. One was to take better advantage of Fujita's explosiveness and get him more involved in the pass rush than when he was a rookie with only one sack.

"He's a big, tall rangy guy and he has some natural pass-rush ability," Vermeil said. "We've got to take advantage of that. Our coaches have got to allow him to go after the quarterback."

Fujita will go into Sunday night's game against Buffalo tied for the team lead with four sacks. Offensive coordinators game-planning against the Chiefs now must account for a whole new dimension.

It's all part of the learning experience. And learning comes easy for the former honor student at Cal, who got his undergraduate degree in less than four years and is almost certainly one of the league's brightest players.

"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable out there," Fujita said. "That's the first thing. I'm more comfortable with what I'm doing, more comfortable in the scheme. It's a combination of things."

And nobody on the team studies game film harder than Fujita, who only grudgingly admits he's made significant progress.

"A lot of it has to do with experience -- seeing plays, seeing different offensive systems, learning different tricks of different players," Fujita said.

"That's one of the things I started to pick up on last year, especially being in the meeting room with some of the veteran guys, hearing them say, `Be alert to this guy, this is something he likes to do,' things like that."

In his long coaching career, Vermeil has seen more than a few men who had the physical ability to excel as an NFL linebacker but lacked enough intelligence.

"Their learning skills and strengths in learning didn't apply to that kind of an environment," Vermeil said. "You could take them and put them in a different spot and different position where things happen differently and they function real well.

"The linebacker position where you're in a complex defensive scheme where things are always changing quickly you have to be able to function very quick."

But he added: "It never hurts to be smart as long as you don't outthink yourself."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index